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Vote for better food choices (at the check-out)

This year’s Thanksgiving felt like it came right on the heels of the presidential election, and that got me thinking more and more about the politics of food and my intense gratitude for living in southern New Hampshire.

However, as the presidential campaign mayhem fades into the past, I’m left contemplating some problematic statistics: At 23.1 percent, our child poverty rate is so high that it’s second only to Romania among the 35 developed nations of the world, 17,000 children on Earth die of starvation every day.

We are the only species systematically destroying its own habitat, and two billion people – almost a third of the world’s population – live on less than $2 a day.

There’s a lot more to those statistics than everyday shopping choices or a simple “To Do” list can fix. Those facts will only change when we bring to our problem-solving a far more committed heart and a shift in legislative priorities.

Voting isn’t a decision made every November. Do you realize that you’re voting every time you check out of the grocery store? When you choose a factory-raised turkey over a local farm-raised heritage turkey, you’re telling the grocer you support factory farms and would like to see more factory turkeys.

We live in an interconnected landscape where the money we spend becomes corporate money, which then turns into funds used to lobby for political decisions that affect our lives.

Therefore, consumer education is as important as voter education. It benefits you, the voter, to know from whom you’re buying, the components of the product, the manufacturing process and, ultimately, where the money you’re spending goes.

Albert Einstein said we wouldn’t solve the problems of the world if we continue the same level of thinking we had when we created these problems. We need more than a new politics; we need a new world view. We need a fundamentally different bottom line. We need to shift from an economic to a humanitarian organizing principle for human civilization.

Trying to consistently buy organic often means sourcing fruits and vegetables from Central and South America, where corporations rely on cheap labor costs and a dearth of worker protections to keep up with demand and keep profits high.

Buying tomatoes in the winter means they have to be transported, generally by trucks, thousands of miles, all the while consuming gasoline and emitting greenhouse gasses.

While the principles of the local and organic food movement represent the ultimate goal for many consumers, that goal remains largely out of reach for low-income households. One of the main barriers to access nutritious food continues to be transportation, which has been historically linked to the marginalization of poor communities from access to healthy, locally grown food at affordable prices.

Many of the poor neighborhoods in this country are simply too far from fresh food markets, and many don’t have a grocery store at all. In a country with inner-city “food deserts” – large swaths of Detroit have been classified as such, and there are 2.2 million people in this country who live more than 1 mile from a store selling groceries and who have no personal vehicle – it’s difficult for many families to be picky about the buying choices they make.

It would be a mistake to direct every person in every socioeconomic situation away from buying at stores with products that fit their budget.

So, the impact of our personal consumer decisions aren’t going to change the world overnight. Just as your one vote generally doesn’t swing an election, neither does your toothpaste purchase at Walmart.

However, change partially comes out of constructing a consciousness, for yourself and for others.

Holding a shopping philosophy builds a movement of consumers who are educated and who want options that benefit their local community, their family’s health and the workers who grow, assemble, harvest and construct our daily purchases.

Being choosy isn’t a substitute for being involved in the political process, but rather about forming a movement, continuing to be active – an activist – while practicing what you preach.

On a lighter note, If you’re dropping the extra cash to buy a heritage turkey or grass-fed roast beef for a holiday meal, it’s going to be that much more tragic if the cooking goes awry.

Chow.com spoke to Deborah Krasner, author of the book “Good Meat,” a big old tome of recipes and cooking tips for pasture and grass-fed meat, to find out more about how to best prepare meat that doesn’t come from an industrial operation. Here’s her advice about heritage turkey:

How is it different from conventionally raised turkey in looks and taste?

Heritage turkey doesn’t look at all like what you (usually) see in the market. It’s kind of like a ballet dancer: flat-chested with enormous thighs. White meat will be limited. It’s going to be much more flavorful and also maybe a little more tough.

What are your tips for cooking it?

I’d make an herb salt by chopping some rosemary and thyme and mixing the herbs with coarse sea salt. I’d rub that on the turkey, then let it sit on the rack in the fridge to get the skin dry and have it shrink a bit to get a nice roasted skin on the cooked turkey.

When you put the turkey in the oven, put the feet facing the back wall and the breast facing the door, so you expose the dark meat to the most heat and protect the light meat.

If you can, start with a blast of high heat to brown it, then cook it low and slow to give the meat time to become tender.

Use a probe meat thermometer to test for doneness in the thickest part of the meat. (Chow.com’s test kitchen recommends 165 degrees.)

If you find the breast is done before the rest, take the bird out, let it rest, take the breast off and put the legs back in the oven.

Let the bird rest before carving.

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